China #1: Welcome to China

by Juan Sarmiento

Since my arrival in the amazing city of Shanghai, I have greatly enjoyed the company of Rev. Choon Lim, who serves as Regional Liason for East Asia with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A). A native of Korea, Choon has been with each of the three groups with which I have visited China in recent years. His deep knowledge of and love for this part of the world, as well as his language skills, have helped many of us grow in our capacity to relate to God’s people in the country.

We are both eager to receive the other members of the group that will be arriving this evening. On this occasion, we have participants coming from congregations in Washington State, Pennsylvania, New York, and Washington D.C.  As Choon and I prepare to receive them, I was able to jot down some very significant reasons to feel very happy and welcome here.

-Heritage: Christianity was first received by people in these lands during the Tang Dynasty in the 7th Century through the witness of Persian missionaries. More recently, the people of China have been very important companions for Presbyterians in the United States. China was the first field after the founding of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) in 1837. For at least one century “China Missions” was the single largest item in the budget of our General Assembly. According to estimates by Chinese Christians, the overall number of Protestant missionaries that served in these beautiful lands exceeds 20,000.

There is no doubt that people of faith have faced serious historical challenges here. However, the Chinese church has done more than any other in highlighting the important ministry concepts of self-governance, self-supporting, and self-propagation. Better known as the “three-self” principle, it has helped develop dignifying and respectful approaches to mission as opposed to colonial and paternalistic ones.

-Recent partnerships: For the last 26 years, The Outreach Foundation has coordinated regular visits to churches in different regions. We have seen hundreds of friendships between believers in both countries result in mutual encouragement for our lives of faith. At the request of our friends in the Chinese Christian Council, we have focused our activities in coming alongside the formation of lay leaders and pastors. First Presbyterian Church of Wilmington (NC), Bel Air Church (CA), Shadyside Presbyterian Church (PA) and University Place Presbyterian Church (WA) are some of the congregations that have been more recently involved in those fruitful exchanges.

-The church in China today: China is now home to the largest Protestant body in any single country, the Three-Self Church/Chinese Christian Council. It is estimated that two percent of the vast population of this country are Christians. Being that there are roughly 60,000 congregations and 4,000 ordained pastors, on average, each pastor serves 15 congregations. With around 10,000 believers for each pastor, the efforts to equip lay leaders and pastors are as pressing as they have ever been. Even with the severe shortage of leaders, some Christians in the country have set the goal of sending 20,000 missionaries to other countries by the year 2030 in gratitude for the missionaries that shared the Gospel here in the past.

China occupies the second place in the global economy and is experiencing the fastest movement towards urbanization that humanity has ever seen. Right in the middle of astounding technological development and financial growth, Chinese Christians remain committed to proclaiming that God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ meets the deepest longings of humanity.

I am truly grateful for the ongoing relationships of trust and collaboration that The Outreach Foundation continues to nurture with the main Christian leaders in this country and those responsible for the church in some of its provinces. Please join me and our group in prayer as we begin our journey with our sisters and brothers here.  Welcome to this exciting journey of faith that spans across centuries and continents.